In his video for "Czech One", Archy Marshall floats slightly above the clouds – a darkened black and blue sky expanding into dense nothingness – patch cast across one eye, pronouncing the state of a relationship with the thick reflection of someone who has found themselves in the earth's upper, darkened atmosphere. "Is it the numb density?" he sings as he moves slowly through the air. "Can't even look her in the eye."
The video (directed by Frank LeBon, previously of Obongjayar's "Creeping" and Mount Kimbie's "Delta") is a triumph of set design and direction, so streamlined by the song's pensive mood that it already feels like some of the year's best visuals. Beginning on an airplane, the blackened sky Marshall finds himself in later switches to a London high street with such ease that it's impossible not to think about the correlation. Is King Krule really flying or is the set design a metaphor for state of mind – a place above the ground, somewhere 6 Feet Beneath The Moon (as is the name of his last album) where thoughts are left to fester?
No one can speak for Marshall except himself but in listening to his music as King Krule (and under his own name on A New Place 2 Drown), you can certainly draw from a specific landscape: one of souls floating into the distance, grey horizons, discontented minds, the deep space travel of a gravity-bound self. It's one locked in filth and remorse and regret but also tinged with a kind of hope – the one constant positive that comes with exploration. At least that's how it seems to me anyway, when piecing together all the themes of Marshall's last two records and how they set him apart from any other living artist of his age.
It's always been easy, a cop-out maybe, to cast Marshall as a specifically south London musician – one couched in the semantics of Joe Strummer or The Damned and their respective influences, bound together by the aural troposphere of trip-hop and rap and set to the weed-scented scene of roaming nocturnally through SE16 in moonlit autumnal rain. Parts of that certainly make sense: as a teaser for his most recent record Marshall released the track "Bermondsey Bosom" (referencing the south London area). The video for "Easy Easy" takes in the riverside and watered basins of the area's historic docks. And as long as there's been a contemporary "south London scene", one of artistic singer songwriters and suburban rap acts, there's been King Krule's name plastered at the front, as the press-anointed figurehead of the whole thing, sometimes playing low-key small pub shows. Amid images of the skyline, it's a place he refers to as "his heart and soul" in the short film accompanying his recent A New Place 2 Drown album.
But as much as his music invokes tangible places it also drifts in an atmosphere above and below them; as the titles of his records state, he's coming from somewhere 6 Feet Beneath The Moon or an area more hidden and subterranean. The references are everywhere: "Ocean Bed", "Neptune Estate" – places "Bathed in Grey" or "Portraits of Black and Blue", located in an infinite space of densely meaningful emptiness, at the bottom of the ocean or being fucked away far from the sun, burning in hell (that last place featuring on his recent collaboration with Mount Kimbie, which steam rolls as it does with roaring, despairing intensity).
What does it mean when we talk about these places, sunken beneath the ocean floor or above the earth and in the stars? There's a certain degree of depth to them, as though they can be likened to where our thoughts go to be interminably buried or reflected upon. When it comes to thinking about life and the shit it throws back in your face, most of us – or at least myself – can't help but ask questions. We're endlessly debating bad decisions back and forth, trying to do right and find salvation, self-destructing somewhere on the journey to a desired meaningful truth that's never going to be found, rebuilding only to eventually fall down some other wormhole, lost in a self-ascribed pattern of darkness.
Marshall's secret – at least in some ways – is that he doesn't seem to question. He can accept whatever's been destined to happen then get angry about it, unleashing that emotion with a poignant turbulence. And if he doesn't take that path, he hits back with a solemn yet poetic missive, each line blunt and to the point. Take "Has This Hit" for example, a track from 6 Feet Beneath The Moon referencing grey skies, a loss of faith, a sense of never being "fully content". He searches for the meaning behind a situation, addresses it and, presumably – at least you hope anyway, considering how much feeling is in the track – lets it go once it's out in the world.
These deep excavations of thought that we all go on from time to time – marooning ourselves in the bottom of the earth for extended periods of time, losing ourselves up in the sky, simmering somewhere in those locations Marshall describes – are important processes, I think. But as the line goes from his new single "Czech One", and whatever it means, it's crucial to not become forever caught up in a mission, in the place "where tiny men have been absorbed, for questioning the sky". Go to the place as Marshall does in the video, then come back down or up again. His music is a testament to this. Drawing from places so far flung, so far above and below, he's an example of what it means to turn all that black and grey and blue into something meaningful, to illuminate the darkness when all there is to do is accept it.
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